By Jo Murphy 12 May, 2017
I’m in a taxi bound for the station. A train waits to take me to Rome. The sky is grey and Mika plays on the radio. I have a flashback to another taxi ride two years ago. I’m headed to Colombo airport, bound for Delhi. The sky is blue and Mika plays on the radio.

Time has collapsed.

These experiences may be years and miles apart, but the feeling they incite is the same. I know it intimately, this sense of simultaneous excitement and disquiet. Change is coming and it’s unsettling, yes, but it’s also deeply regenerative.

The greatest disparity between these two pictures, however, is me.

There’s a chasm between the girl I was and the woman I’ve become. Sometimes I look back at that girl and admire her tenacity, but I also knew her pain. And I know it’s her chaotic journey to womanhood that’s taught me to love this in-between space where both departure and arrival are imminent.

We’re always in transition physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, but travel intensifies this sense of momentum, of endless new beginnings. It’s a process of growing up. So my nostalgia affords me a reminder that without life’s flux we’d atrophy physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

As the taxi moves through the traffic, I consider the way I left London three years ago. I knew what I was turning away from, but hadn’t a clue what I was turning towards. While it was prime circumstance to turn towards myself, I was far too preoccupied with running away.

While I’d happily leapt, I didn’t want to land.

More than that, part of me fought like fury to resist all that was changing, recklessly grasping at passing relationships as a grounding mechanism, relying on others to lead the way, doing most anything to shirk responsibility for my journey.

I’d not yet truly departed from my former life, which meant that anything new I desired was little more than a pipe dream. The irony was that I’d unknowingly catapulted myself into a highly unstable, but highly creative space, which I now know to be chaos – a word (and concept) that makes us twitchy.

If we trace its etymology back to classical Greek we discover the origins of chaos in ‘chasm’ or ‘void’. Better still, Hellenistic mythology tells us that chaos was a primeval state of existence, the blank canvas upon which the universe was painted. So if chaos refers to something that’s not yet formed, it grants us great opportunities for creation as well as destruction.

Chaos is pure potential.

Yet still we fear it. Anything without defining parameters confuses us. We’ve no means of measuring, classifying, ranking, of knowing a thing without form. Just like that girl gallivanting across Asia didn’t know herself.

I was simultaneously running from and craving all that was measurable, definable and knowable. I was falling unconsciously into chaos, resisting the process, which led to knee-jerk planning and overspending as overcompensation for all I could not control.

Fast-forward to today, however, and I now thrive on the chaos, choosing to fall into it consciously . I’ve learnt to recognise when it’s time to leave , and to properly grieve whatever is passing, before painting new beginnings with very broad brushstrokes. I have faith in the process of destruction before (re)creation.

So what changed? How did I get from that place to this one? How did something highly reactive metamorphose into something deeply creative? It did so when I finally understood how the relationship between that girl and this woman was rooted in chaos.

Chaos was the bridge.

And so it goes. However much we want to move from one place to another we simply can’t if we bypass the bridge. And since we worship continuity, bypassing anything that threatens it is the easy choice. We expect change to be preassembled and delivered next day. But life doesn’t work like that.

Chaos is the natural order of things.

Whatever you’re ending and whatever you wish to begin, know there’s a world of mess that needs to be experienced between the two. Consider it your wintertime , the necessary pause before creation springs forth from the mulch.

Full immersion in chaos is what grants us full liberation from the past and full access to the future. It’s where we collapse time. It’s where we learn to love whatever we’re leaving behind ( like I learnt to love that girl ) and harvest it for the seeds of something better.

And this is why travel for me is no longer about escaping but decontextualizing . It’s an essential deconstruction of any routine that breeds dependence on continuity. It’s a way of strengthening my change muscles. But you don’t have to travel to do the same. The chaos metaphor stands wherever you are since life has a way of throwing curveballs whenever you get too comfortable.

So while you may tell me you’re happy as you are and you’ve no desire to change, take care not to atrophy, my friends. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re most certainly drifting backwards.

But if you are ready to leap, know that chaos will always catch you.

By Jo Murphy 21 Apr, 2017
I’m sitting on a marble bench. In front of me stands the Taj Mahal, magnificent, symmetrical. The serenity of the place astounds despite how many of us clamour for the money shot, the memory.

But this moment, and the memory I’m making, has been interrupted.

Next to me sits my ‘guide’, a man with verbal diarrhoea. I’m not sure if he’s visited the Taj so often it’s old news to him. I’m not even sure if he’s aware of his trespass. I am certain, however, that he doesn’t care.

Nevermind the magnificence in front of me, this man insists on talking about himself . Nonstop. And then out come the photos of his wife and daughter. He’s also sitting a little closer than is necessary, breathing his lunch all over me.

I nod, smile and feign interest – my learned co-dependency allows me to coo at the picture, to let him know that I’m okay with his intrusion. But I’m not okay with it, really not okay at all . Beneath the benign smile my fury simmers. Yet my enduring silence grants him permission to continue. I consider filing a complaint after the event .

If I were a man, I wonder, would he encroach on me in this way? Would he pour his narcissism all over me? Would he be so comfortable stealing this memory I’m making, which should be mine and mine alone?

But I don’t have answers to these questions since there’s too much cultural disparity at play. Instead I reach the conclusion that I have led this man on with my niceness, with my need to please. My lack of objection or resistance has signalled to him that I’m okay with this situation. Ergo the situation is my fault .

And there it is.

What do I expect as a white woman travelling solo? It’s my first trip to India, after all, and I’m just learning the do’s and don’t’s. I’m deposited daily at my hotel and told not to leave until a chaperone returns. I wait for hours, obediently, watching others come and go at whim. This is no adventure .

But nobody is holding me prisoner other than myself. I may have taken this trip as an act of a rebellion against the stuffy old prejudices I’d grown up with, but somehow I’m still being the good girl . Despite my efforts to reject beliefs that don’t belong to me, a system I don’t buy into, I’ve dragged it 5,000 miles across the globe with me.

And so it goes.

No matter how badly we want to change a thing, or a belief, we can’t until we burn our allegiance to it. Simply denouncing something just won’t do. Instead we have to dig it up by the roots, to excavate whatever exists at a subconscious level. Likely it’s a belief system we’ve grown up within, which means it’s also grown up inside of us.

So why tell you this story?

Because, in hindsight, I see how this was one of many events that seeded my coming out. One of many happenings over the course of my 30 plus years – both large and small – that finally broke my allegiance to the old system.

This coming out I speak of wasn’t so much an event but an evolution, an emerging clarity. It was something that I’d not been able to articulate for a long time, until I could: I am a feminist .

And there it is.

So what, you say. Here’s what. Feminism burns beliefs – it burns barriers to fairness, respect and empathy – not bras. It’s the complete opposite of the masculine system currently holding us in place – one that’s built on apathy, fear and prejudice.

It’s not about putting women first, or any minority above the majority, but pitching everyone at the same level. It’s about redressing the balance all around. And so feminism strikes a chord with me as a women and a human .

For me it’s not academic or angry, it’s a response to my accumulated experience, my ongoing observation of the ways in which we hurt ourselves. It’s a feeling that’s been with me for a long time, but I’ve only just discovered its name. And, being human, I like to label things.

Ironic how it took a label to help me look beneath all the other labels.

Feminism has helped me to understand what I misunderstood about myself – to put my puzzle together , to understand where, why and how I didn’t fit in. It’s allowed me to dismantle difficult and self-destructive beliefs, to make sense of personal dilemmas, as well as the bigger picture stuff.

Most of all, feminism helps me understand how and why change is both necessary and possible.

Take that day at the Taj, for example, where I sat festering and fuming. I was nigh on terrified of that man’s disapproval. Nevermind that he displeased me, I couldn’t bare not to please him because I (like so many of us) had internalised our world's need for co-dependence and conformity.

If we don’t play by the rules of the system we imagine all kinds of rejection, which is why we act in ways that protect ourselves. We’re so engrossed in the business of self-defence that we imagine attack where there is none.

And when we make enemies out of everyone, we undermine our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.

That’s why feminism doesn’t just address women’s problems, but human problems. It’s as diverse as the diversity it asks us to embrace.

Which brings us back to India, a country I’ve visited many times, alone and un-chaperoned, since that day at the Taj. It’s the place that opened my heart and mind in ways I could not have foreseen. It’s the place that finally broke my allegiance to the system (and broke me, but that’s another story for another day).

Once broken, however, I could rebuild something different, but not necessarily new. It’s not that feminism is old news so much as the majority understanding of it is. The f word is still too out there for many, but this resistance tells me it has something of value to offer.

Anything that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges the norm, also enhances our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.

I’m told repeatedly that gender is irrelevant in today’s post-feminist world. Does that mean race and colour are also a non-issue, or sexual and religious preference? Feminism says no, fuck the rulebook, and asks us instead to embrace the necessity and beauty of difference and diversity.

I’ve been a long-time advocate for self-expression, for encouraging people to find the freedom within themselves to be themselves, but this takes it to a new level. It’s a rally cry, really, change doesn’t just get delivered alongside your organic veggie box. Yep, I’m gonna say it folks, we have to be it .

Let’s do this. Who's with me? 

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